The sound of the gavel striking against the desk in court means one of two things – the defendant is innocent of the charges, or the judge is sentencing the defendant to serve time in jail. When the gavel struck on Special Forces Sergeant Joseph Serna – he quickly realized that he’d be spending the night in jail. What he could not have known – is that he’d be sharing a one-man jail cell with the JUDGE?!

Sergeant Joseph Serna, a decorated soldier having earned three purple hearts while serving in combat in the U.S. Army – had been suffering with PTSD and was relying heavily on alcohol to lighten the load. When he was charged with DUI, driving under the influence, he landed in front of North Carolina State District Court Judge Lou Olivera

Olivera sentenced Serna to spend the night in jail. The judge drove Serna to the jail in a neighboring county – but what happened next was nothing short of amazing!  A Gulf War veteran himself, Judge Olivera was concerned that leaving Serna in isolation for a night would trigger his PTSD. So the Judge decided that he would spend the night with Serna.

The Fayetteville Observer reported, Serna was almost killed three times: once, by a roadside bomb, then again by a suicide bomber. During a tour in 2008, Serna and three other soldiers were driving down a narrow dirt road in Kandahar when their armored truck toppled into a canal, the Associated Press reported. As water filled the vehicle, Serna struggled to escape. It was his fellow soldier, Sgt. James Treber, who saved him.

“I felt a hand come down and unfasten my seat belt and release my body armor,” Serna recalled to the AP. “Sgt. Treber picked me up and moved me to a small pocket of air. He knew there was not enough room for both of us to breathe so he went under water to find another pocket of air.” Treber died from the accident, but Serna survived. He was the only one who did – reports The Washington Post. 

We see the signs all too often. In the past year alone the number of diagnosed cases of PTSD in the military jumped 50% and that’s only the reported and diagnosed cases. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that PTSD impacts at least 20% of all veterans who have served in military conflicts. This is also driving the suicide rate to unprecedented levels, as the U.S. Secretary of Defense calls suicide in the military an “epidemic” with as many as 22 taking their lives every day.

The Next Leap Forward

Just imagine for a moment if every Judge took the same level of interest that Judge Lou Olivera did in this case. Wow, just the mere thought of that and you begin to see the ripple affect we’d experience virtually overnight! Not that every Judge would go to jail with every individual they sentence – but more so, that they would take a personal interest in the rehabilitation of these men and women.

Judge Lou Olivera is a Brink Thinker and an American Hero!

Sergeant Joseph Serna is an American Hero, we thank you both for your service to our great nation!